Visiting the Meroe Pyramids of Sudan
UPDATE MAY 2020: If you want off-the-beaten-track travel, here it is. Sudan, alone, is an obscure destination to visit, but one that is well worth your time and effort. But visiting the Meroe Pyramids of Sudan is more obscure still. I visited Sudan as part of my epic Cape Town to Cairo overland trip, and Sudan was a real highlight. From checking out the domestic tourism scene in Port Sudan, to see what all the fuss was about in Khartoum, taking the ferry from Sudan to Egypt up the Nile, and then Sudan’s Number 1 attraction, visiting the Meroe Pyramids of Sudan!
You know how the conversation should go:
“Have you ever seen the pyramids?”
“The ones in Egypt or the ones in Sudan?”
Instant travel guru points! Seriously though, when people talk about the pyramids they are generally referring to the ones in Cairo, Egypt (check out the things to see in Cairo here, or how to spend 3 days in Cairo here). But that, right there, is the true beauty of the Sudanese pyramids, you’re almost guaranteed to have them all to yourself when you visit.
What are the Pyramids of Sudan?
Sudan has 255 Pyramids, and most people have never heard of them! Very briefly, the Sudanese Pyramids are 2,500 years old, during the Nubian period, (slightly newer than the Egyptian Pyramids) and there were built to act as tombs for the rulers of Napata and Meroë. That’s enough info to impress your friends.
Where Are the Pyramids of Sudan?
Well, there are actually a few different sites for the Pyramids of Sudan. Firstly, I should say that the Meroe Pyramids are generally the Pyramids that most people visit when they’re in Sudan. The Meroe Pyramids are in the best condition (and also the ones that have received some reconstruction funding), and probably more important, they’re easier to access with day-trips from Khartoum even possible.
So where are all these pyramids in Sudan? There are 4 sites to visit the Sudanese pyramids:
- The Meroe Sites / Begrawiya: The best Pyramids in Sudan, 200km north of Khartoum, near Shendi (3.5 hour drive from Khartoum)
- Jebel Barkal Pyramids, Sudan: Near the town of Karima, 450km north of Sudan, near Karima (6 hour drive one-way from Khartoum)
- El Kurru Pyramids, Sudan: Part of the same complex of Pyramids as Jebel Barkal
- Nuri Pyramids, Sudan: Part of the same complex of Pyramids as Jebel Barkal
Check out the google map below. The Meroe Pyramids stand-alone, near the town of Shendi, 200km from Khartoum, whereas the Pyramids of Jebel Barkal, El Kurru and Nuri all are bunched together near the town of Karima, 450km north of Khartoum.
How to Visit the Pyramids of Sudan
You can see from the google map above, technically it would be possible to visit ALL 4 sets of Sudanese Pyramids in one mammoth day trip from Khartoum, leaving around 3 or 4am when it’s still dark, and getting back late at night after 10 pm, with at least 14 hours of that day trip spent in the car. Ouch.
If you’re overlapping/backpacking/long-term-traveling in Sudan: The best way to visit them is this. From Khartoum, your next travel stop is probably Port Sudan, so go from Khartoum to Shendi and spend the night there, either organising the Mero Pyramids for the day you arrive in Shendi, or the following day. The continue on to Port Sudan. After you’re done with Port Sudan, make your way to Karima where you can sleep, and see all the other 3 sets of Sudanese Pyramids. After you’re done, make your way to Wadi Halfa to continue on the ferry from Sudan to Egypt. This assumes you’re going from South to North, if you’re going North to South, of course just switch this around.
If you’re visiting Sudan as a short break/tourist: Day-trip from Khartoum to the Meroe Pyramids. The easiest option, and the coolest Pyramids in Sudan.
How to visit the Meroe Pyramids:
This site is found 200 km or so north of Khartoum and is hosts the largest selection of pyramids found in Sudan. It’s possible to visit the pyramids as part of a day trip from Khartoum, either by bus or taxi. A cheaper way of doing it, and how I personally did it, is to sleep in Atbara and take a day trip from there, it’s about 80km each way so you can get a bus or if there are a couple of you then a taxi cost around $30 USD all in.
When you arrive at the site prepare to be amazed. The place seems untouched by tourism and there is no road from the main road to the site where the Meroe Pyramids are! You have to offroad through the desert to get there. It costs around 20 SDP (about $7) and will be the best money you spend in Sudan. 2 guys with a camel and an old lady selling tickets, other than that it’s just you, 20 pyramids and a whole lot of desert. More than likely, you’ll be the only tourists there and it’s a surreal feeling to be at such an important historical sight with the freedom to roam around carefree. I gave the camel guys 5 SDP to ride their camels (EDIT 2020: I wouldn’t ride camels, or elephants, or dolphins etc since learning about their welfare) around instead of walking on the scorching hot sand and it was money well invested.
How to visit the Jebel Barkal Pyramids of Sudan:
Another cool selection of Sudanese pyramids but not quite as impressive as Begrawiya. Sleep in Karima and get a cab the 4km out of town to the pyramids, there’s also a run-down temple complex there too. Again, you’ll be the only person there and that alone is a great experience, it’s free to visit too so no excuses not to go.
How to Visit El Kurru Pyramids:
Again, this is reachable from a day trip from Karima (via bus for $1 USD or, more conveniently, taxi for $12). There are 2 underground tombs complete with Egyptian style hieroglyphics. The area these are found is amazing, with tombs and old temples everywhere, nothing has been properly excavated yet and as soon as Unesco get their hands on these Sudanese sights, they’ll be world-famous for sure. The ticket costs around $5 USD per person.
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Thoughts on Visiting the Pyramids in Sudan
If you’re on a tight budget, like me when I went, you can do this all via public transport and $4 guest houses. In all honesty, spending $50 here, and $100 there for taxis and hotels would be a much more comfortable experience, and what I will certainly do when I come back. Personally, I’d day trip from Khartoum in a private taxi, and come back and sleep in Khartoum for the Meroe Pyramids, and not bother again with the other set unless I’m going in that direction. But obviously, that’s up to you. I hope you get the opportunity to visit Sudan and get well and truly off the beaten track. You won’t regret it, I promise you that and when you are fighting the hordes of tourist at the Pyramids in Egypt you can look back with nostalgia at the time in Sudan when you had the whole site to yourself.
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